UPSIDE-DOWN THINKING

Luann Udell shares what a difference a change of perspective or point of view can make
Luann Udell shares what a difference a change of perspective or point-of-view can make

Upside-Down Thinking

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”  For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines, and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.

Sometimes a change of perspective, another point-of-view, another pair of eyes and ears, can challenge our assumptions, and help us through a sticky spot in life.

I have several mannequins in my studio, aka “dress forms”. Most are vintage, which means they are a size 0. I try not to be in photos where I’m standing too close to them.

I use them to display some of my larger, bolder jewelry, especially the series I call “shaman necklaces”.

Unfortunately, one has gotten very wobbly over the years, lurching and leaning at odd angles. I try to prop it up against a solid surface, and hope it doesn’t slip at an unfortunate time—say, when someone who’s had one too many glasses of wine tries to hug it.

Several times, I slipped the body part off its stand, trying to figure out how to make it more stable. Finally, during this last studio move, I took the base apart to see what was going on.

The base consists of four “feet”, with a threaded rod standing in a hole in the base. There’s a large nut underneath that, when tightened, would secure the rod more firmly to the base.

“I can do that!” I thought, and made a note to bring an adjustable wrench in.

But the nut was slightly rusted. The wrench couldn’t budge it. Now what??

I could put some WD-40 on it, or borrow another wrench, or ask my husband  or a neighbor to do it for me. But it would mean another trip to the hardware store, or the garage, or might come across as an imposition for my neighbor, whatever. I just felt stuck. Maybe I should just sell it, or move it back to the garage, until I die and the kids come to settle the estate and clear out my studios and come across the mannequin and everyone silently thinks, “What the h*** was she thinking??!!” (I keep telling my kids that when I die, they can just invite the public into my studio/storage places, tell them to fill a bag and charge $50/bag.)

Today, I took one last look at the stand.

And that’s when I realized, if, instead of trying to twist the bolt further UP, I could unscrew the threaded rod FURTHER DOWN.

I tried it. It took 10 seconds. And it worked!

Now I’m a little embarrassed I didn’t think of that sooner.

Except, you know, I immediately thought, “What a great article topic!”

So many of us have been brain-washed encouraged to think there is one way to make art. (2D or sculpture, that’s it.) And the paints have to be oil, and the sculpture stone or bronze.) We’ve been told there’s one way to get it out into the world: Getting into that great gallery.) We’ve come to believe there is a secret way to market our work, and we used to think the only way to do that was an ad in a prestigious art magazine.

Many artist believe “our art should speak for itself”. Our studios should look “professional” (whatever that means) and be neat and tidy, and only our very best work should be on view.  We often believe that if everybody else is painting rusty trucks, well then, we should paint that, too!

We believe that our artist statements should sound brilliant, and heady, that our audience is mostly interested in our process, that our resume is our most valuable credential, proving we are indeed, a “real artist”. Hey, we went to art school! We studied under that famous artist! We took a workshop with all those other famous artists! We got into that prestigious gallery, show, exhibition! It says so, right here on page 6!

We are bombarded daily with offers of information, knowledge, and strategies for how to make a lot of money from our creative work. Er, for a price. Sometimes a very high price.

If we switched this upside-down, what would it look like?

There are a million ways to bring something beautiful, meaningful, and/or powerful into the world. We have a vast array of media and vehicles to choose from.

Yes, a healthy relationship with a good gallery can work small miracles in growing our audience into passionate collectors. But it’s not the only way to go.

Maybe your art can speak for itself. Mine does, in a way. People tell me that all the time, that they can sense the power.

But unlike the actual cave of Lascaux, I’m here today to share my story. Over the years, that’s created a beautiful connection between my work and my audience. I’ve grown to love telling my story, and I will keep telling it until I can’t. It’s my only chance in life to tell it. I’m sure those ancient artists of the distant past would love it if they could share their true story. But they can’t. Telling our story does not automatically destroy the power, nor the mystery, of what is in our hearts.

Art school can be a wonderful experience, and a resume can “prove” we have accomplished great things in our art career. But a resume is really to reassure ourselves we are who we say we are. And to show other artists who believe in credentials. And to reassure collectors who don’t trust their own judgment on what speaks to them, and what isn’t worth their investment. Art schools are great for many students, but toxic to some. And not everyone can go to art school, and many don’t even want to. I’m glad I didn’t go. I would not be the artist I am today. Period.

Re: workshops with famous artists….I get that a great teacher, and a great workshop, is a wonderful resource. But half the time I don’t recognize the artists mentioned, and it certainly doesn’t alter my perception of someone’s work.  I understand taking such a workshop. But why brag about it, or use it as a “reference”? Yes, I know some of those famous artists only take the better students. But unless they’ve written you a letter of recommendation….You may be one of hundreds, or even thousands of people who studied under them. Quick, name an artist who studied under Michaelangelo!

And our artist-y studios? A few days ago, I met another artist in my new location. Their studio was very small, and spare. There were a couple works in progress. As we talked, they shared where they teach art, the group ventures they participate in, the people they’d taken classes from, their subject matter, etc. I asked them if they were going to participate in a big bash event coming up next month, a full day’s event with music, open studios, wine tasting, festivities, and thousands of people expected.

And they said no.

I asked why not. They spread their hands, indicated their space. “It’s not very impressive,” they said. (They had seen my studio and were very impressed.)

I said these thoughts to them:

My work takes several media, I’m a hoarder highly-evolved hunter-gather by nature, and consequently my studio is really dense. But not all studios are.

I told them their work was lovely, and that they were chatty, funny, and easy to talk with. “People will love talking with you!” I said.

I told them that their subject was one that would appeal to many people, and the steps involved (there was a photograph, an enlarged photograph, some small studies) would fascinate visitors.

I said I did not expect to sell anything, simply willing to invest in introducing my work to as many people as possible. “It’s not about who comes by, it’s about who comes back.” My only goal is to sign up as many genuinely-intrigued visitors as possible for my mailing list.

Finally, I said, “A wise mentor told me years ago, ‘To the general public, you artists are the people who ran away to join the circus!’ People are curious about what our lives look like. Many people dream that they could do what we do. And your small, intimate space will a) let people see that you don’t need a huge space or tons of supplies to bring art-making into their own lives, and b) may encourage a fellow budding artist about what can be accomplished when we dedicate a little bit of space, and time, to our work.”

And that’s one of the “purposes” for making our art: To inspire others.

I think I convinced them they really weren’t “less than”.  They seemed happy!

Upside-down thinking may not work for everything (I’m flying across the country again tomorrow, I want the plane to fly right-side up!) nor everybody. To each his own…..

But my newly-restored mannequin has shown me the power at looking at a “problem” differently. I hope you give it a try!

Author: Luann Udell

I find it just as important to write about my art as to make it. I am fascinated by stories. You can tell when people are speaking their truth--their eyes light up, their voices become strong, their entire body posture becomes powerful and upright. I love it when people get to this place in their work, their relationships, their art. As I work from this powerful place in MY heart, I share this process with others--so they have a strong place to stand, too. Because the world needs our beautiful art. All of it we can make, as fast as we can! Whether it's a bowl, a painting, a song, a garden, a story, if it makes our world a better place, we need to do everything in our power to get it out there.

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